Surviving Summer School

Switches and Britches
(formerly Mrs. Stern Sterling’s War)

“This is the last time I am going to tell you two eighth grade boys to stop talking while I’m teaching the fifth grade,” demanded Mrs. Sterling. “One more word out of you and you’ll both get a switching after school!”

Whippings with switches or paddles were allowed at school during 1947. My brother, Larry, and his friend, Bill, were well-acquainted with the weapons. The seemed to enjoy frustrating Mrs. Sterling but they usually stopped the act just before she told them to stay after school for a switching. One hot, summer day in Oklahoma, their drama went a bit too far.

Disciplinary events always come to mind when I remember my years in rural schools. I attended Scoby School and Moore School near Paoli, Oklahoma. Both were two-room schoolhouses.

Mrs. Sterling taught 5th through 8th grades. She was a stern disciplinarian who scared the timid students and challenged others to make life difficult for her.
The primary punishable action in those schools was talking or laughing with nearby students while the teacher was focusing on a lesson to another grade.

They had an amazing ability to teach the students of one grade while those in three other grades quietly attended to their assignments-some weren’t quiet at all.
Mrs. Sterling was teaching geography to my 5th grade class late one hot summer day.

All of the students were restless that day because the temperature and humidity made all of us feel miserable. She was on edge too.

The loudest of the other students were Bill and Larry. I always believed that they baited her just for the fun of it. No doubt, they hoped that she would send them home early for being bad boys.

Mrs. Sterling scolded them several times for interrupting our lesson; eventually she told them that they would get a switching after school.
She demanded that they march down to the corner of the school yard and bring back two switches. They walked slowly out of the room and down to the large willow tree.

Obediently, they returned with two switches.

Each was approximately a quarter of an inch in diameter and 13 inches long. Bill and Larry enjoyed the spotlight when the other students giggled at their ingenuity. Mrs. Sterling did not.

She scolded them and sent them back to get appropriate-sized switches. As they walked out of the room, we could hear them laughing. They returned carrying two switches-actually, they were big branches.

The other students laughed when they brought their switches into the classroom.

The 2 switches were 2 inches in diameter and 5 feet long. It was clear that Mrs. Sterling was reaching the end of her rope.

Pointing and shaking her pencil at them, she spoke slowly and deliberately, demanding that they bring the right-sized switches immediately. They hurried out the door and returned a short time later with two switches, handed them to her before quietly going to their desk.

They did but nobody laughed.

She finished teaching our lesson and soon rang the bell that she kept on her desk. Everyone hurried out of the room, except two smug 8th grade boys who stayed seated.

By the time that Bill and Larry caught up with the rest of us down by the creek, they were laughing at the stunt they had played on Mrs. Sterling that day. And, they laughed at the switching because they had not felt any pain.

Anyone who thought that those two boys had not planned ahead, was wrong!

Their denim overalls had big pockets and both boys had a handkerchief in each pocket.

(This story is true.)